Amanda Craig’s Hearts and Minds is not an easy read.
The novel begins with the dumping of a body near the ponds at London's Hampstead Heath.
What follows is the story of a group of people who live in the city – a Zimbabwean taxi driver, an American journalist, a South African teacher, a British human rights lawyer, a Russian au pair and a young Ukrainian girl who is trafficked to the UK.
Eventually we learn their connections to the body at the Heath - but along the way we find out how difficult it is for many of them to survive in a city which is not designed to take care of those who fall under the radar.
For those of us who live in London, this novel challenges the way many of us think about our middle-class British lives, revealing the underworld on which the whole city depends -- such as its Polish cleaners, East European nannies and African and Middle Eastern taxi-drivers. And with that comes exploitation, personified here at its very worst with Anna, the 15-year old Ukrainian who travels to England in search of a better life, only to end up deep in the sex-trade.
Some people have criticized this novel for being too preachy – but if it makes any of us take a little closer look at London, and the people that gravitate towards it, then it has done its job. Yes, London is a city of high-fliers — city-bankers, pop stars and foreign billionaires fill the newspapers with their exploits and adventures — but this is also a city in which those on the minimum wage cannot afford to take the train, and are instead forced to rely on two-hour bus journeys to get to work each day.
Hearts and Minds was an eye-opener for me. We all like to believe that others have lives which are as good as our own, especially when we live in one of the richest cities in the world. And while you hear about such things as the human ‘slave trade’ in London, we are rarely actually confronted with it. This novel makes it all too real.
If you are looking for a typically English novel in the vein of Jane Austen or the Bronte sisters, this is not the book for you. All too often England is portrayed as a land of tea and scones, when really there is far more going on under the surface.
If you want to know a little more about the real underbelly of London - then I highly recommend Hearts and Minds.
This will not be for everyone, and if not, there are many more books set in England available at Packabook to explore.